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EU Legal Documents

The European Union, considered by some to be the sole example in present-day international law of a "supranational" organization, is large and complex.  Most legal researchers are interested in actions taken by one or more of the EU's five core entities:  The European Council, the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, and the Court of Justice of the European Union.  It is worth understanding each institution's roles, and the documents they generate, before researching law EU in any particular subject area.

Three EU entities are involved in its lawmaking processes--the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of the European Union.  The Court of Justice of the European Union adjudicates disputes regarding EU law and considers questions regarding its interpretation.  The European Commission also serves as an executive body, and the European Council establishes the Union's policy priorities.

Types of EU Documents

Researchers of EU law should be familiar with the following primary source documents:

Primary Legislation Secondary Legislation Case Law
In EU parlance, treaties are referred to as "primary" legislation.  Relevant treaties may include treaties establishing and empowering EU entities, as well as treaties to which the EU is a party with other nation states.

"Secondary" legislation is produced during a multistep legislative process in which the Commission, Parliament, and Council of the EU all play a role.  The three types of "secondary" legislation include:

  • Regulations--Apply directly to member states.
  • Directives--Require implementing measures by member states.  As such, if researchers identify a relevant directive, they may also need to locate domestic implementing measures in any member states of interest.
  • Decisions--Apply only to the parties at issue.
In the Court of Justice of the European Union, judges may seek advisory opinions from their Advocates General.  These opinions provide the Advocate General's recommended disposition on a matter or issue and while advisory in nature, typically influence the Court.  The Court's subsequent judgment is distinct from these opinions.


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Meredith Capps
Subjects: Law